The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

January 27, 2012

Fun with Insomnia: Not Quite Getting Away From It All

Filed under: Fun With Insomnia, travel — Brian Lutz @ 4:47 am

For some odd reason, I don’t think I have actually been writing a whole lot of these Fun With Insomnia posts lately, and I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a good thing or not. Either I am actually getting most of the sleep that I should be getting, or I am just failing to make appropriate use of the time I spend lying awake in bed. I actually think that a lot of these posts that I have written recently have been travel related, mostly written from airplanes, trains, boats or other big moving things that I seem spectacularly incapable of sleeping on. And sure enough, once again I am writing this from an airplane on a cross country flight, although by the time it actually gets posted it will be coming from some airport (most likely Houston, where I have a connecting flight) since there isn’t any Wifi on the plane. Not sure how people managed to survive cross-country flights under these conditions, to be honest. Interestingly enough, this particular plane has DirecTV installed in each seat so I can watch television to pass the time, but given the fact that it’s somewhere around 1am right now Seattle time, most channels are deep into infomercial territory. I did find a random Italian soccer game to watch for a bit, but the satellite signal was a bit flaky, and I got a bit sick of the skips and stutters in the picture and sound. So now I’m just writing this and trying to figure out how to make it through the two-and-a-half remaining hours of flight time on this plane.

Owing to the previously discussed unexpected change to my employment situation, I actually considered bumping up my flight a couple of days and spending a couple of extra days in Florida prior to boarding the ship tomorrow, but ultimately I decided against it, mostly owing to the high cost of the airline change fees. To be honest, it was probably a good thing that I did, because I ended up having a couple of phone screens for potential jobs to deal with in that time. Besides, I am actually traveling with people this time around, so it was probably best to just stick to the original arrangements. I’m still thinking the return flight is looking a little iffy, but at least if we miss it I’ll have some company, right?

Anyway, from here in Houston it should just be another couple of hours of flight time to get to Miami, at which point I should be my usual nice and loopy self (I don’t know why, but I don’t think I’ve ever been down there without being somewhere around 36 hours of no sleep…). We board the ship tomorrow, and from there I should have some Internet, but very limited, so I may or may not post something along the way depending on how motivated I’m feeling about it at that point.

January 18, 2012

Scenes From a Snow Day in Downtown Bellevue

Filed under: Bellevue, weather — Brian Lutz @ 11:00 pm

Given the relatively temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest, even in the middle of Winter snow is a fairly infrequent occurrence around here.  During most Winters here we rarely get more than 2 or 3 snow events, and most of them are relatively minor (at least unless you’re trying to drive in them, in which case you’re pretty much dealing with a horrendous mess no matter how much or how little snow actually ends up on the ground.)  Every so often we do get a major snowstorm here, but these are relatively rare, with the last really significant one being back in December of 2008.  The one we’ve got going on here right now doesn’t seem to be quite that bad (at least not here in Downtown Bellevue, I understand most of the really big snow totals happened to the North and South of here,) but it was still enough to close down all the schools and make a mess out of the roads. 

Fortunately, living in a walkable Downtown area means that even in the snow it’s not too terribly difficult to get around, even while leaving the car safely parked.  Even then, given a recent unexpected change in my employment situation (not that big a deal really,) I don’t really have anywhere to be right now anyway, so I can just stay at home and not have to worry about any of this.  Even so, after a while cabin fever does start to set in a bit, so I did took the opportunity to go for a little walk this afternoon and see how Bellevue is faring underneath all the snow.  After the jump, a look at a few scenes from a snow day in Downtown Bellevue.


January 17, 2012

How to Panic in the Snow

Filed under: weather — Brian Lutz @ 5:42 pm

There’s no getting away from it now, at least not unless you’ve got travel plans already and happen to be able to get to the airport sometime in, oh, about the next 20 minutes or so.  That’s right, there’s snow on the way, and plenty of it (or a moderate quantity of it depending on where exactly you happen to be, but that’s just nitpicking anyway.)  A Winter Wonderland of Doom awaits all who dare to venture out into the elements.  While it’s true that reasonable precautions and preparation now can save you from serious trouble later, who’s got time for that?   Sure, the warnings have been out there for days now, but why bother being prudent and taking reasonable precautions when you can just put everything off to the last minute?  Besides, under certain circumstances, I hear that panicking can be quite rewarding.

That’s not to say that you should just go out and run around in circles screaming with your hands up in the air.  Sure, it’s a pretty standard method of panicking, but ultimately it doesn’t really accomplish much, and it mostly just makes you look silly.  You see, in order to panic properly, you need to combine the usual irrational with rash decisions and counterproductive overreactions.  There’s a fine art to proper weather-related panic, and with these handy tips, you can be panicking like a pro in no time.

    • Start by cleaning out a supermarket or two.  Any experienced worrywart knows that the first thing you do when it looks like there might be snow on the way is to head for the nearest supermarket and go clean out the canned goods aisle, but anyone can do that.  In order to do it right, you can’t just go in with a shopping list like you’re making your weekly grocery run, you’ve got to rush in at the first sign of peril and fill a cart up with the first thing you see on the shelves.  Sure, that tends to mean you’re going to end up with a year’s supply of canned garbanzo beans and 12 boxes of Corrugated Fiber Crunchies (The world’s first 100% recycled breakfast cereal!) which doesn’t sound like much fun, especially when compared with the sumptuous looking boxes of Macaroni and Cheese  right next to it on the shelf, but remember, this is a crisis, and you’re not panicking properly unless you treat it like it’s a crisis.  Besides, you can always go download a few thousand recipes for canned garbanzo beans off the Internet, right?  Oh, and be sure to keep some of the stuff in the car, you never know when you might find yourself needing to live in there for a while…
    • Don’t forget the essentials.  Even after you’ve cleaned out the nearest canned goods aisle, you’re going to need some other stuff to survive.  For example, you might want to consider having some firewood around, just in case.  Sure, you may happen to live in an apartment with no fireplace, but if you’re going to make it through this crisis you can’t let little details like that (or other insignificant trivialities like the terms of your apartment lease) deter you.  After all, the last thing you want to find yourself having to do is to burn up your supply of Corrugated Fiber Crunchies to stay warm, right?  (Then again, after you actually try the things, you might find yourself looking for a convenient excuse to do so…)  Oh, and according to some very reliable sources I’ve found on the Internet, just hours before a potentially threatening snowstorm is supposed to be a great time to go out and buy yourself a team of sled dogs.  If you buy them from the right place, I hear they’ll even throw in a handy instructional DVD, so all you need to do is get the dogs to watch it so they know what to do, and you’ll be ready for anything.
    • Batten Down the Hatches.  Obviously the best way to keep yourself out of trouble is to stay away from it in the first place, and there’s no place to do that than in the comfort of your own home.  Sure it might be a little crowded in there now that you’ve filled the place with canned garbanzo beans, firewood and quite possibly even a pack of soon to be dangerously bored and undertrained sled dogs, but at least this way you won’t have to be out in the snow.  If you want to be extra careful you might even board up the windows and shove a dresser or two in front of the door.  Sure, you won’t be able to tell that is’s snowing outside, but isn’t that what Facebook and Twitter are for?
    • Go out for a nice drive.  Over the years, the denizens of the Pacific Northwest have become famous worldwide for their Winter driving prowess, and Northwest drivers in the snow have been the subject of many popular viral videos.  Sure, common sense tells you that you don’t want to go out driving in the snow if you don’t really have to, but why pass up what may be your only chance at Internet-wide fortune and fame?  (Well OK, maybe not the fortune part, unless you count your car insurance bills afterward.)  Sure, you may find yourself trying unsuccessfully to climb a 45-degree slope in an old beater Honda to get back to your house, sliding back to the bottom and hitting 2 or 3 Bimmers on the way back down, but remember, anything that is worth having is going to be difficult, and driving home in the middle of a snowstorm is no exception.  Then again, if it all gets to be too much for you to handle, you can always just ditch the car, walk home and go retreive it after the Spring thaw.  Sure, some people might have some issues with this (especially if you happen to do it right in the middle of the freeway) but when we’re in the middle of a weather-related crisis sometimes we must all make sacrifices.
    • When all else fails… Run away.  I hear Florida is lovely (or at least has a lot less crummy weather) around this time of year.  Granted, that leaves the problem of finding flights that don’t cost a small fortune and haven’t been delayed to next Thursday due to the weather, and then getting to the airport when there’s an inch of ice on the roads (as well as potentially a car you recently abandoned sitting in the middle of the freeway,) but that’s just a minor detail.  Maybe this would be a good time to try out those sled dogs, assuming you remembered to buy a dogsled to go along with them.  Um… you DID remember to buy a dogsled, right?


Anyway, with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a full-fledged Seattle snow panicker.  Now stay safe out there, and if you’d be so kind, try to leave some pasta on the shelf at the supermarket, I haven’t made it over there yet…

January 12, 2012

Things You Tend to Notice While Wandering Nonchalantly into Oncoming Traffic

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:50 am
Image credit: Flickr user Bill Kramme, Creative Commons

As I’ve talked about on a number of occasions here, one of the nice things about living where I do is the commute to work, or lack thereof.  I don’t have a commute so much as I have a ten minute walk between my apartment and the office.  In theory, this means that I’m not spending any money on commuting expenses (especially since I am no longer making a monthly car payment as of a few months ago,) but I’m pretty sure any money being saved by not driving to work and back is being swallowed up pretty well in the additional living expenses that come with life in Downtown Bellevue compared to what they would be living in a place a bit further out in the suburbs.  Even if I’m leaving the car parked at home all day, I’ve still got to pay the going rate for Downtown parking at home, which tends not to be particularly cheap.  So when it all boils down I’m probably not saving much money (if any at all) by living here and walking to work, but I suppose I’m at least getting a little bit of exercise in the process, right?

The walk that I make twice a day between here and the office comes out to roughly .4 miles in each direction and change, with very slight and ultimately insignificant variations in length depending on which of the several possible routes I actually take.  No matter which direction I go in, I will always have to cross the same three streets (NE 8th, 110th Ave NE and 108th Ave NE) although where I actually cross those streets may vary.  This means that quite often, I find myself waiting for walk signals at crosswalks.  Once you start crossing a particular street at a particular spot often enough, you quickly begin to learn the traffic patterns and stoplight timings, although it’s not like any of them are too terribly difficult to figure out in the first place.  Aside from a minor variation or two in patterns resulting from the presence or absence of cars in some left turn lanes, the stoplights all behave in a more or less predictable fashion.  This is, naturally, a good thing, the last thing you want when there’s several hundred very heavy objects traveling at high rates of speed is to have to guess what the traffic lights are going to do next.  Generally by the time you’ve crossed the street at a particular intersection enough times, you tend to have a pretty good handle on where in the cycle a light will be when you get there, and how long it’s going to take to cross the street. 
Or least that’s how it would work out if people were actually paying attention to this stuff.  If you wander around Downtown Bellevue (or Downtown Seattle, or pretty much any other major urban downtown I suspect) enough, it won’t take you long to find someone doing something they’re not supposed to be doing in a crosswalk.   Mostly it’s just little things like taking way too long to cross or starting to cross about three seconds before the light turns yellow, but occasionally you get the ones that just ignore the crossing signals entirely and just wander right into oncoming traffic.  Fortunately, it seems like most of these people at least have enough common sense to at least prevent themselves from finding new employment in the lucrative hood ornament industry, but sometimes you have to wonder.  Are they just too impatient to wait the 3o seconds it would take for the walk signal to show up?  Are they running to catch a bus?  Are they sick of playing Frogger as a video game and want to experience it in real life?  The world may never know.
While I can’t claim to know what causes presumably otherwise sane people to frequently throw caution to the wind and cross streets in lunatic-like fashion, one thing that seems to encourage bad crosswalk behavior is the timers on the crossing signals, a relatively recent addition to most of the stoplights in the Downtown area.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with these (which shouldn’t be a lot of people, as I’ve seen these become quite common around here over the past few years, and not just in Downtown,) instead of just a flashing Don’t Walk sign, these signals have a countdown timer telling you roughly how much time is left before the light is going to turn yellow.  If you’ve ever read one of those little guides you occasionally see on posts next to the crosswalk buttons, you’d know that you’re not supposed to begin crossing the street if a flashing Don’t Walk sign is on.  Apparently with the countdown timers on the lights, all bets are off on that one, and the flashing Don’t Walk sign has largely been downgraded to the level of a mere suggestion.  Sure, you’ve only got six seconds to cross, but you can still make it as long as you don’t mind inconveniencing the guy trying to make a right turn in front of you a bit, right?  After all, waiting for a second light builds character (for them, not you.) 
And yes, I know that this subject is putting me dangerously close to chasing-kids-off-the-lawn territory, but you have to wonder if people give much thought to the fact that they’re placing themselves into the path of multiple two-ton projectiles piloted by persons of unknown reaction time, which also happen to have the right of way at the present time, and expect to somehow not get smacked halfway to Renton if they happen to get themselves hit by one of the things.  Yes, I know it’s a pain to have to wait for the next light to cross the street, but at least if you do it that way you’ll usually make it across the street with at least as many unbroken bones as you began your trip with.

January 4, 2012

Statistical Overview of 2011

Filed under: Site Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:51 pm

 Well, we’ve made to 2012, and one of the first things I do at the beginning of each new year (well, besides and sit around and complain about the fact that we don’t all have flying cars yet, I’m really starting to suspect that this whole Future thing is getting to be just a bit overrated) is to put together a brief summary of some of the Blog’s vital statistics.  Mostly I just do this for future reference, but I figure there might be a few people out there who are interested in this as well, so I might as well make it public.  The short version is that for the second year in a row, overall traffic was down, but over the past couple of months I’ve been seeing it recover a bit, mostly thanks to search engine traffic for a few particular posts.  As has been the case for most previous years, the vast majority of the traffic comes from a few specific posts, and most of that traffic comes from search engines and a few particular links that seem to generate a fair bit of traffic on their own, mostly posts that cover subjects that aren’t covered particularly well elsewhere on the Internet.  Interestingly, even though the Totem Lake Mall post I wrote back in 2007 continues to be by far the most popular overall post on this site, a different post (the Whitman’s Sampler post) was the most read post on this site in 2011, accounting for over 12% of the site’s traffic by itself.

Although I have long since cast off any notions of being able to make a living off my Blog (or even much money in the first place, for that matter,) I still think it will be an interesting challenge to try to reverse the decline in site traffic.  I suppose I could do a lot of this by just posting more often (I’ve been trying to maintain the standard of at least one post per week and generally trying to keep that post in the 1,000 word range, although I think I’ve been getting a little bit lazy on that one lately,) but there’s also something to be said for writing more of the types of posts that generate a fair bit of search traffic. 

Anyway, as usual, I would like to thank those of you who have been reading this Blog, and hope you’ll keep reading.

  • Total Posts(all time, including this one):  534
  • Total Posts (2011): 62
  • Total Comments (all time):  850
  • Total  Page Views (all time):  212,096
  • Total Page Views in 2011: 42, 742
  • Total Page Views in 2010:  52,228
  • Total Page Views in 2009:  60, 939
  • Total Page Views in 2008: 50, 219
  • Average Visitors Per Day (2011):  121

Top posts (2011):

Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates   5,136
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall   3,593
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations   1,469
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09)   1,449
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall   1,321
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home   1,256
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets   1,153
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall   1,005
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall   753
Off the Beaten Path: The World’s First KFC in Murray Utah   727

Top Posts (All Time):

Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall   24,946
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates   10,716
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations   9,764
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall   9,407
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall   6,441
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09)   6,189
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets   5,258
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall   4,383
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home   3,447
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway   2,977

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